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David has taken up smoking. Not because he likes it; because he needs something to do. Isaiah has begun his solo dinner hour. David sets his bass on a stand next to the dance floor. He descends the long flight of steps next to the hotel and settles on a low wall near the dunes. The night is crystalline cold, stars flocking over the beach in record numbers. An elderly couple walks the wooden path over the sand, bundled up like ice skaters. David pulls a mint-green box from his windbreaker. He’s had it for two weeks, and still has five cigarettes. He pulls one out and stares at it. He hears singing.
No. It’s Isaiah, playing “Cottontail” at an easy swing. The man’s a genius. Just keeping up with him makes his brain hurt. People say David’s basswork sounds great, but it’s hard to enjoy yourself when you’re a swimmer lost at sea, fighting a rip tide of chord changes. Weird. It sounds like Isaiah’s playing one of those Ella Fitzgerald scat lines. How the hell do you get that from a piano?
He hears a finger-snap, and spies a shadow at the back of the hotel, hiding between a dune and a patio. David closes his eyes and listens to the voice, deedling an arc of nonsense syllables over the top of the melody. He makes it sound easy; it isn’t. Larry was the best singer he’s ever known, and scatting totally threw him. If he lights the cigarette, Shadow Man will disappear, so David listens for a while, pockets the mint-green box and heads upstairs for a soda.
Ralph won’t let his musicians drink until they’re done playing. David can’t really blame him; he’s known a lot of musicians. But it’s hard to play cold sober, especially tonight. At break time, they head for Isaiah’s truck and break out the miniature liquor bottles. David resists the temptation to raise a toast to fallen comrades, and takes his Jack Daniel’s at a shot.
“Ah! Much better.”
“Always,” says Isaiah.
Isaiah is seven feet tall. A seven-foot Jew with a Barry White voice and one of those chin-spike tufts that the Beats called a goatee.
David once said, “You ever consider the fact that you could snap me like a twig?”
Isaiah unleashed his monstrous smile. “You know how hard it is to find a good bassist?”
No talk now. They take turns sighing, watching their breath rise into the streetlights.
“Tourist season,” says Isaiah.
“Need a singer.”
“Yep. And Ocean Shores is just crawling with Bennetts and Sinatras.”
“I keep playing the old intros,” says Isaiah. “And I look over to give the cue…”
“Yeah. Tell you what. I’ll take out an ad. We’ll do some auditions. Frankly, I need the money.”
“Because the tourists of Washington State deserve the same chance at obesity as my wife. Oh God. I’m sorry.”
Isaiah cleans out a Captain Morgan. “Nonsense! This parking lot is our confessional. You say whatever you need to.”
“Thank you, Father Silverstein.”
“Here. Take the sacrament.”
He hands David a bottle of Binaca. David takes a blast and hands it back. They make for the hotel.
“What do you wanna play?”
“‘Girl from Ipanema.’”
“That’s not happy! She doesn’t even see the poor guy.”
“Yeah,” says Isaiah. “But she’s tall and tan and young and lovely.”
Photo by MJV